Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Callum Turner, Kate Beckinsale, Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons, Tate Donovan
Runtime: 1 hr 29 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Some Coarse Language And Drug Use)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 14 September 2017
Synopsis: Thomas Webb (Callum Turner), the son of a publisher and his artistic wife, has just graduated from college and is trying to find his place in the world. Moving from his parents’ Upper West Side apartment to the Lower East Side, he befriends his neighbor W.F. (Jeff Bridges), a shambling alcoholic writer who dispenses worldly wisdom alongside healthy shots of whiskey. Thomas’ world begins to shift when he discovers that his long-married father (Pierce Brosnan) is having an affair with a seductive younger woman (Kate Beckinsale). Determined to break up the relationship, Thomas ends up sleeping with his father’s mistress, launching a chain of events that will change everything he thinks he knows about himself and his family.
Intriguing as it may sound, the title of ‘500 Days of Summer’ director Marc Webb’s latest coming-of-age tale didn’t come as a stroke of inspiration to him or to his screenwriter Allan Loeb; rather, both have Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel to thank for it, whose 1970 song was written by the former when the latter left him in New York to go shoot a movie in Mexico.
Having said that, we’re not quite sure either Simon or Garfunkel would have approved the use of their song title for this bland character study of an idealistic but disaffected aspiring writer Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) in his early 20s who discovers that his publishing scion of a father Ethan (Pierce Brosnan) is cheating on his mother (Cynthia Nixon) and decides to embark on his own affair with Dad’s 40-something year-old mistress Johanna (Kate Beckinsale).
Oh yes, that in essence is the sort of dramatic crisis that our titular protagonist Thomas has to sort out within a surprisingly brief 89-minute film set against a charmingly cultured, if neurotic, backdrop of Manhattan. Besides the Thomas-Ethan-Johanna love triangle, two other secondary relationships come to the fore – first, that between Thomas and his mysterious and nosy new neighbour W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges); and second, that between Thomas and his friend Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), who starts off as the target of his romantic affections until he begins an ill-advised tryst with Johanna.
If you’re familiar with any such similar feel-good dramedies for that matter, you’ll probably guess that the whole web of relationships will unravel at some point with a marriage proposal, more likely one between Ethan and Johanna. You’ll probably also guess that young and emotional as he is, Thomas will feel a deep sense of indignation and even jealousy at this turning point, leading to a reckoning before a reconciliation that will leave everyone better off than where they started. And true enough, without revealing any spoilers, that is exactly what happens in the third act, although the questionable ethical choices that Thomas makes as well as the lack of definition to his character outside of these choices undercuts not just how much we understand his motivations and emotions but also how much we empathise with his predicament.
Furthermore, if you’re familiar with Loeb’s dramas (such as last winter’s dud ‘Collateral Beauty’), you’ll be expecting some sort of twist in the third act, which true enough plays out as a revelation of the connection between Thomas and W.F. – hint, the latter has been in Thomas’ life far longer than just the time they have been next-door neighbours. Anyhow, the lack of build-up to this point makes it come off even more unconvincing, notwithstanding Bridges’ delightful embodiment of the eccentric life-lesson-dispensing type whose manner and mannerisms he’s perfected in numerous other such movies before.
But more fundamentally, there is little compelling reason throughout the entire movie why Thomas’ tribulations are worth a story in and of itself. To be fair, Woody Allen’s comedy-dramas are equally guilty of that, though their sheer entertainment value often justifies their very existence. On the other hand, there is neither enough comedy or drama to make this more than a bland, slight and perhaps even artificial story of a young man coming into his own, especially given the leaps of faith that we are asked to take with respect to both plot and character.
Indeed, the fact that you’ll likely remember not the movie itself but the Simon and Garfunkel song that turns up in the middle of the second act just goes to show how substantial the film itself is. The actors and their performances are certainly watchable, if not enjoyable, but the material itself is hardly worth their calibre. They – as well as Simon and Garfunkel – certainly deserve better.
(A great cast and a beautiful song in search of a better movie, 'The Only Living Boy in New York' is an unsatisfying character study that lacks depth, purpose and even authenticity)
Review by Gabriel Chong